Mindful Maintenance

“Mindful Maintenance,” Bob Ryder

READINGS
Matthew 6:25-29 ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Matthew 7:1-5 ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgement you give you will be the judgement you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite – first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

“What’s the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist?  The non-Buddhist thinks there’s a difference.”

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

vs

“Happiness is the best revenge.”

REFLECTION
Usually it’s… well, not easy but at least doable to keep my attention on positive things, participating in constructive, healthy activities and interacting with people who are generally kind and competent.  I might take the occasional fleeting interest when something snarky or mean-spirited is offered for entertainment or philosophical purposes, but generally I recognize it for what it is and move on soon enough.  I don’t often feel overwhelmed with what’s wrong in the world, or obligated to dwell on it.  Maybe that’s partly an inherited trait, and there’s some good luck and privilege involved, too, no doubt.  But I hope there’s some skill to it, as well, because if there’s an element of skill to being happy or at least content; optimistic or at least hopeful – that gives us some control.  I mention it because it’s been a little harder lately.  It’s taken more conscious effort.  There’s so much bad news and it’s so easy to find.  A noticeable percentage of our economy is based on politicians and corporations telling us how bad things are and whose fault it is, and in the next breath telling us how good things could be if we vanquish the right enemy or buy the right deodorant or morph our bodies into the right shape and color – stories of political scandal, weather catastrophes, the oppression of immigrants and refugees, mass shootings, animal cruelty, all sponsored by “Lean Cuisine!”  It’s ugly out there.

And it’s not only in the media, of course.  People we know and love in our own families and neighborhoods go through struggles.  We go through struggles of our own.  Our health and our jobs and our relationships are all vulnerable to problems and disappointments.  Suffering is inevitable in this life.  In my other job, more often than not I can help people improve behavior problems with their dogs and there’s a lot of joy that comes with that.  But there are cases where the challenges and sometimes the dangers presented by certain behaviors are daunting, and I don’t always get to know how things worked out after I’ve assessed the issues and offered advice on how to move forward.  I’ve worked with dogs who’ve had such good experiences in a training session.  I can see their relief and happiness interacting with someone who understands what they need and gives them doable ways to get it.  I can literally feel that relief and happiness with them as they get past confusion or fear.  But maybe they’re in a home where the family can’t manage the risks or maybe don’t have the resources to make a training plan work, and I’m left to wonder what will become of a sweet, troubled little soul.  Or worse, sometimes I have a pretty good idea what will become of a sweet, troubled little soul.  If I let it, that can drive me crazy – just the small fraction of suffering in the world of which I’m aware or come into contact with.  And it doesn’t take much imagination to realize there’s a metric ton of suffering I can’t see, directly.  If I let it, that could drive me crazy.

“If I let it…”  That feels like the important idea.  To be spiritually mature people, we have to keep our balance with a lot of turbulence swirling around.  There’s a lot of suffering and a lot of injustice in the world, and to keep our sanity we need some perspective and some skills.  There’s more suffering than we can address.  What are we to do with that?  Becoming calloused to it isn’t an option.  It’s no good becoming numb or indifferent.  Unless it’s to become “The Lord of the Flies” we have some basic obligations to cooperate and help each other out.  We can’t just say, “It’s not my problem.”  When we see others suffering, to a degree we have a responsibility to advocate, to teach, to heal, to resist, to contribute.  Yet neither are we called to go down in flames.  It’s a simple fact that there’s more suffering in the world – just in our little corner of the it, than any of us can alleviate.  We have to make choices.  We have to allocate resources wisely.  We need to do our part and rely on others to do theirs.  We have to cultivate selective attention.

There’s a skill used by practitioners of mindfulness meditation called “letting go.”  It’s as simple it sounds.  Left to its own untrained inclinations, our minds will gravitate toward the most threatening and alluring features of our environment, and we become stressed out, wanting more and more of this, wanting to avoid that at all costs.  We need to be deliberate about where we put or attention, moving it off of information that makes for a diet too rich in fear or judgement.  In fact, I chose the readings we heard earlier precisely because they’re examples of Jesus teaching the importance of choosing which thoughts and ideas we entertain and which we dismiss.

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

It’s not good for us to indulge certain patterns of thought, and we can make choices about where to put our attention and for how long.

There’s a principle in behavior work that goes like this.  The best way to reduce a behavior you don’t like is to replace it with a behavior that you like better.  For our purposes this morning, the application would be that if we’re trying to reduce worrying or judgement, we’d go about it by increasing the attention we’re paying to what’s happening in the moment.  So as we’re working on that balance we need for spiritual maturity, when we’ve done our duty in service to our families and neighbors, our community and country and world, there comes a moment when we can take some simple joy in being alive and experiencing the pleasures and satisfactions that are available in the moment.  Being content is not irresponsible, it’s a necessary and healthy part of being in the world.

You’re alive.  It’s obvious, of course, but no less profound for being so.  Consider that for a moment.  Take a deep breath and feel the air fill your lungs.  Find the pulse in your wrist or your neck, or just be still and feel your heart beating in your chest for a moment.  Shrug your shoulders, gently roll your head on your neck, stretch your back a little – be aware of what a gift your body is, however it’s shaped, however imperfect or incomplete, whatever abilities or glitches it might have.  For some time to come, you get to participate in exploring the possibilities of life on Earth.  We can enjoy our place within the beauty and bounty of an indescribably beautiful planet.  We can share love and friendship with family and neighbors, make our humble contribution to the greater good in whatever grand or humble way while we have the chance.  The world is still a beautiful place filled with beautiful creatures and landscapes.  Part of our journey is to rejoice and be glad in it.  Take another moment now and practice attending to your breath, to your pulse, to your place in the world, to the things you might enjoy and share in the time allotted to you on this planet.  After a few moments we’ll pass the microphone and share a few thoughts.

Closing words

Lin-Manuel Miranda – GMorning (from Twitter)

If it’s crowded in your head
Or heavy in your heart
You’re not remotely alone

We’re all carrying so much around

Lift someone else up today
Grant an unexpected kindness